Connecting families with the outdoors

By Kari Svenneby

Reading about Nature Deficit Disorder and the lack of outdoor play in our communities in Canada can be more than a little depressing. But is this really an issue in Canada? Aren’t we a country of outdoor lovers? Canada is a country built on her people’s ability to embrace, conquer and adapt to nature and its ever-changing weather.

 There is a romantic collective Canadian identity, which we like to accept as true, that Canadians are a hardy lot that spend their time outside. But, that isn’t supported by the report card issued by Healthy Active Canada’s 2010 study giving Canadian children an F for both physical activity levels and active play.

Rather then discussing the reasons why, let’s focus on how, as parents, we can make sure our kids get important outdoor time. Fundamentally, it’s going to mean more outdoor time for parents as well.

Be a part of your community

Create or join an outdoor playgroup - I think adults often forget that outdoor adventures start in the small; being in a ravine or a small park can be big adventure for a little kid. If you are noticing that the parks around you are like many parks in Toronto during the winter (empty), you should start an outdoor playgroup where you live. In Toronto we have many different organizers of outdoor playgroups that are energizing their local community to commit to a weekly gathering outside. We have stay-at-home moms, entrepreneurs, doctors and teachers who are all organizing outdoor playgroups where they live in the winter, spring, fall and summer.

Create a Playboorhood

One dad in California, Mike Lanza, created his backyard with the sole purpose of attracting the neighborhood kids to come and play on his property. He designed a play space and a website and worked to build community where he lives. Doesn’t really matter what how you do it, just be an activist in your community.

 There really are thousands of ways to be a community activist. One community recently petitioned their city council to install speed humps to slow traffic in their neighborhood. Another great way to build community in the winter is to build an outdoor rink in your backyard. If you don’t have a big enough backyard, look to your local park and make a natural ice rink in your local park. The ice may not be perfect, but the company can’t be beat.

Creating a family garden
In our family the garden is a family project that we do together and it gets us outside in all seasons. As well as giving us some fresh herbs and veg it also teaches us about nature’s flora and fauna. We start planting seeds inside in February and plant inside and outside in May. The whole family is weeding, composting and picking up the leaves in the fall.

Harvest together
Whether you have your own garden to harvest, or visiting a local farm, harvesting is great fun for families. Sugarbushing in the early spring, strawberry picking in early summer and apple picking in the fall are popular times for family.

Wild harvest
Dependent on where you live, Canada has lots of wild berries and mushrooms. There is something wonderful about going for a hike and picking fresh blueberries from the bush.

 Eating outside
A very simple way to make sure you get outside is to eat outside. Make sure you have a welcoming table and chairs in your backyard or balcony. Have a picnic in the park and as the days start to get cooler, try to extend the season by wearing warm clothing and serving hot hearty food

Try the season’s sport
Find out what your family likes to do outdoors in the different seasons and get prepared. Is your family into biking, canoeing or swimming in the warm season? Skiing, snowshoeing or skating in the winter? There many outdoor sports to try with the family.

 Sign you kids up for outdoor lessons
A great way to stay in touch with nature is to sign your kids up for season-based activities and look for outdoor venues to take lessons and participate. In the days of indoor ice rinks, pools and tennis courts it is sometime easy to forget that there are wonderful outdoor alternatives that may even be cheaper to join and use.

 Use Technology to get outside
Technology usually gets the blame for children’s lack of outdoor time. But, as much as technology can hold children hostage inside, it can be used to lure them outside. From checking the weather online before you head outside, using a digital camera to capture your outdoor adventures and

Using a GPS device to find treasure is call geocaching (high tech treasure game) and seems to be an activity that is capturing both the young and adult. Go to Geocaching to get more information and how you and your family can do this activity

Embrace the season
Making sure that your family is prepared for the seasons is the most important step you can do to help get your kids outside. Making sure both the kids and adults are dressed properly for the weather will increase both the quality and quantity of the time spent outdoors.

 Daycare and School
Let your school and/or your daycare know that outdoor play and outdoor learning is important to you. When you choose a daycare look for and choose one that is “outdoor play” friendly.

Try to plan for outdoor fun holidays with your kids. Canada has a lot of wonderful parks and wonderful places to explore nature. ?The textbook winter family vacation is a trip to Florida, but keep in mind there are many opportunities for cool outdoor adventures outside of the mainstream attractions. Just 2 hours drive from the main attractions in Orlando there are numerous opportunities for the outdoor seeking family: you can swim with manatees, visit the rated #1 best natural beach in the US and kayak in a natural crystal clear spring.